Resources for Family Caregivers of Older Adults
Overcoming Loss of a Senior Loved One When You’re a Family Caregiver

Overcoming Loss of a Senior Loved One When You’re a Family Caregiver

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How can you hope to handle it?

You have spent years caring for your senior loved one. You have given your all to serve them, protect them, meet their needs and love them unconditionally.

The inevitable outcome of aging is death and we all know that our senior loved ones are moving closer to it each day.

Even though we know death is a part of life and will come sooner than later, we can never truly be prepared. You might ask yourself the following questions as you struggle with loss.

How do I live without her/him?

What do I do now? How will I spend my time?

What will define me? Will I have an identity without caregiving?

How do I grieve, heal and then carry on?

Will I forget the sound of their voice, the look in their eyes or the things they did?

Somehow you’ve got to deal with the feelings of loss and continue to live your life.

Preparing Yourself for Loss as a Caregiver

Naturally, as family caregivers, we tend to begin the mourning process as soon as a diagnosis is made. It could be many years later that a loss may come, but beginning to grieve for the person we love as we realize that he is declining due to the disease process can be a healthy thing for us. We may not even recognize that we indeed have begun grieving and feel the oncoming loss for years.

Be aware that loss causes pain — emotional and physical. As a caregiver you may experience even more fatigue as the end nears and the demands of caring become greater. Avoid finding external ways to relieve your pain, such as alcohol.

It is better for your health to ask for help and get some respite so that you can deal with emotional pain without artificial means. Get your network in order so that you have people to call on when you need them the most.

Be ready to deal with your feelings and emotions. When you repress these feelings or ignore them, they will rear their ugly heads at a most inconvenient time in the future and likely be more difficult to deal with then. They will linger if not dealt with at the time. There are no right or wrong feelings but they need to be faced and accepted.

No Single “Right” Way to Deal with Grief

Each person handles grief differently and on a different time schedule — that is OK.

There is no one right way or length of time to process your grief. Therefore, don’t compare yourself with others even siblings.

Give yourself permission to cope in your own way but keep working on healing. Your loved one would not want you to hold yourself back from living.

Many people who are experiencing the loss of someone they spent a great deal of time caregiving find themselves being extremely fatigued. For years they have put their own needs on hold and set aside their feelings to show a brave face. This leads to a letdown and exhaustion.

Be prepared for this occurrence when your loved one passes by putting yourself first. You may need to tell others to give you some time to rest and get your feelings under control before you make life decisions and even plan a family gathering too soon.

Overcoming Loss to Begin Healing

Losing a loved one, especially someone for whom you have spent years providing care, requires you to go through the process of grieving. Your grief can’t be undone. In order to heal, you have to allow yourself to walk through all the stages of grief and actively deal with your emotions.

There are a number of things that you can do to help manage your grief. We hope these suggestions help you.

  • Keep a journal of your feelings. It is confidential so write how you feel exploring your grief including sadness, guilt, loss, anger, loneliness, regret or other feelings that may surface. Get to the root of your feelings.
  • Talk to a professional if your grief does not seem to be lessening or if your physical health is being affected.
  • Join a bereavement group or support group.
  • Connect with your faith community, talk to others who are grieving in your church, join a support group for spouses experiencing loss.
  • Plan memorial celebrations. By honoring your loved one and their contribution to the family or community you will heal. You may want to plan the ceremony on an anniversary of their death or on their birthday.
  • Plant a tree or plant in their memory. This is a way to be reminded of them every day when you are able to look at the garden. If there is a special plant or flower that was their favorite or brings a special memory, plant that. Our family has a special place in our hearts for Shasta daisies!
  • Make memory books with photos or other memorabilia. You can also memorialize them with memory bears, jewelry or other personal articles.
  • Reflect on your own needs, as you are no longer providing care to your loved one. What will make you happy? What do you want to spend time doing? Do you want to work, go back to school, or volunteer? Is there a way you can help others since your found caregiving rewarding?
  • Be patient with yourself! Your grief can reappear, especially at special times such as holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays. Your grief can also be triggered by sounds such as their favorite song, smells such as their perfume and tastes such as their favorite cookie. When this happens you will be brought back to exploring your feelings and remembering the good times.

Being a caregiver is the most rewarding and fulfilling “job” you will ever have. There is no question that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing and where you should be.

With all the love you have given to your care recipient, losing your loved one will take time to overcome and accept. Remember to live life as your loved one would want.

2 Responses to Overcoming Loss of a Senior Loved One When You’re a Family Caregiver

  1. I just lost my mother on July 15, I took care of her for three years. the last year was the worst because she really started to decline health wise. I had move in with her in her home to care for her because she didn’t want to go anywhere else. and I was lucky enough that I was able to and that I have a very understanding husband, that understood what I need to do and our home is only 30 minutes from my mother’s house. But now I feel lost I need to go home. My mother left her house to my son and he tell me I can stay as long as I want and my husband says the same. But I don’t want to do anything but sit here in her house where I can feel her. i loved care for my mother that was such a rewarding blessing to have done. I thank God every day for that blessing but what do I do now. I feel that I am no longer needed any were.

    • I am so sorry about your loss Sandra. It can be even more deeply felt when you have become so close by being a caregiver. I encourage you to find ways to heal and seek support from family, friends and groups who can help you treasure your memories and move on with your own life. You may not feel where you are needed, but you are and need to give yourself time to find your place. Your mother lives now in you and will be with you wherever you go! I wish you peace.

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